LA Times Puts Spotlight on Station Tattoo

The LA Times is out with a story yesterday that deputies at Compton Station have been getting a common tattoo. But things only get more complicated from here. We’ll try to break it down for you…

Why Does This Matter?
This is scandalous news because there have been credible allegations in recent years that deputy sheriffs were getting matching tattoos, similar to the way gang members do. It doesn’t look good.

So, Is That What’s Happening?
No. Though that may have happened before, it’s not what’s happening now. Actually, many (most?) sheriff stations have tattoos. Hell, Cerritos Station has a tattoo; Altadena, too (maybe a grizzly bear with devil horns and a grim reaper’s scythe?). Good money says Avalon has one of a shark.

Wasn’t Jim McDonnell Elected To Clean Up All This?
Yes–but that was four years ago.

Why Has McDonnell Been So Ineffectual?
Because he doesn’t really understand LASD and isn’t respected by those who do. He’s perceived as an LAPD transplant, just wearing a costume. He has said himself that being sheriff is like being a CEO: anybody with a long resume could step in and lead it, he said in 2014. And the people within the organization have said, “Nah. You’re not one of us. We can wait you out.”

I Don’t Like Tattoos And I Want McDonnell To Get Rid of Them

Too bad. They are constitutionally protected speech, though LASD has had policies for years that they must be covered up when on duty. The only way to get rid of them would be for the deputies to agree, which would require a leader they respected…who probably won’t pursue such a goal in the first place.

Did Captain Thatcher of Compton Station Know About This?
Did Captain Thatcher know that 20-30 of his top performing deputies had a common tattoo on their ankle for at least the past two years? If he didn’t, he must not have known much about what was going on at his station…

So, What Are These Tattoos About?
Station tattoos are a sign that you have been accepted into the club (of the deputies who are established and most respected at a particular station). They typically come after years of hard work, of doing your job and working extra hours and training the next generation, of many days/nights chasing evil and living to not-boast about it… They are a brand that this station stands for something and that you live up to that. Tattoos like this have existed in law enforcement and the military for probably hundreds of years…

Couldn’t Wanting A Tattoo (To Be Accepted) Cause A Deputy To Engage in Wrongdoing?
Yes. That’s why leadership is so important.

Mmmmm… Sorta Sounds Like A Gang To Me, Though…
Nah, it’s more about machismo and enforcing standards/tradition at the local/station level in the face of the department (like any bureaucracy) tolerating poor performance overall. There was some gang-like stuff going on about 10 years ago where deputies guarding the 2000 floor at Men’s Central Jail ran a clique called “The 2000 Boys” and flashed hand signs to each other, which is pretty gang-like behavior…but that’s really just immaturity.

Humans are tribal and the giving and sporting of tattoos is a way people within a large, paramilitary organization can represent what is important to them. While being a deputy is hugely important to almost all deputies and a major part of their identity, being a “Lennox deputy” or a “Century deputy” or a “Lakewood deputy” or a “Compton deputy” or “Palmdale deputy” can often be just as important, because many stations have standards they want to uphold (or wish they did).

Sheriff Baca tried to get rid of station tattoos, wanting “one LASD”. He failed.

Soon after entering office, McDonnell tried something similar, but changing stations’ decades-old logos. An rebellion soon followed. When he stepped on that landmine (laid for him by his advisers), his honeymoon and credibility with deputies who had previously given him the benefit of the doubt, was effectively over.

Everybody stands for something. Unless you stand for nothing. Station tattoos are a way of saying, “This place has a standard and my peers determined that I met it.”

Who’s Really Opposed To These Things?
Good, decent citizens who don’t live in this world and don’t get it. Also, deputies who weren’t very good (or were political climbers) and weren’t respected by their peers, particularly the Alphas that tend to emerge in each station.

Isn’t This All Pretty Immature?
In law enforcement, on the street, you often place your life in someone else’s hands. You ask them to place theirs in yours. You don’t do that in an office. The tattoos are a way of saying, “You make the grade” … and giving those who didn’t something to strive for.

The reality is that many cops at many stations aren’t hard-chargers. Many cops aren’t the ones you’d want responding if your life was in danger, or who have any business stopping that stolen vehicle full of tweaked-out gangsters and guns. It’s a pretty small group of deputies who you want doing that…and tattoos are one way they identify each other.

So, What’s A Station Tattoo? And What’s A Clique?
The Sheriff’s Department has many station tattoos–and wearing one is protected by the First Amendment (just like writing this news site is). But the Department has also had cliques: unofficial clubs that were invitation-only. The Vikings (at the former Lynwood Station, whose patrol area is now covered by Century Station)–the one that a federal judge once said was a neo-Nazi like, white supremacist organization (though probably half its members were Hispanic). The Jump Out Boys. The Bandidos in East LA. The Buffalo Soldiers (whose members are black, and may or may not include the current Undersheriff).

Hold The Phone. You’re Saying Recently-Promoted, Senior Department Leaders May Be Members of Deputy Cliques? Even A Race-Based One?
That’s what we’re saying.

Cliques Sound Pretty Bad. But Who Else Has A Station Tattoo?
Oh. Lots of people.

ALADS President Ron Hernandez Sporting His Firestone Station Tattoo. Firestone closed in 1993. This Photo From 2014 Was Found On McDonnell’s Campaign Facebook Page.

3 thoughts on “LA Times Puts Spotlight on Station Tattoo”

  1. Thank you Robert Bayes for clarifying their erroneous reporting of facts, and thank you LASD NEWS for not forgetting about me. I was getting a little depressed not seeing my name in your limelight.


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